All sound is vibration. In other words, waves moving through the air, like ripples on a pond.
Singing is no different – when you sing, you disturb the air between yourself and the listener.
That’s a scientific fact, and not one that many people – even singers! – would dispute.
But when it comes to the movement of air inside the body, it seems that a lot of singers and teachers get confused.
“Place your voice in your … (fill in the blank)” is a phrase that lots of us have heard. It’s certainly one that caused me much confusion when I was learning to sing.
Let’s think logically:
- sound is produced by the vibration of the vocal folds
- the air above the vocal folds is disturbed
- this disturbance travels through the air above it in waves
- these waves are absorbed and reflected by the various structures of the vocal tract (throat and mouth, essentially)
So where’s the ‘placement’?
Below is my all-time favourite video of the voice, and one which a lot of pupils are amazed by. On first hearing, it seems fake, as it some post-production editing was used to produce the sound.
In essence, it shows the effect that different shaped resonating spaces have on a fundamental vibration. As you watch it, bear in mind that the vibration stays the same, it’s the shape of the resonator that produces the ‘human’ sound.
In Estill, we refer to the vocal tract as the ‘Filter’ and I think it’s a great way to understand the role it plays – it dampens certain harmonics and enhances others, giving us patterns of sound we hear as language and voice quality.
Of course, you can manipulate the structures within the vocal tract (larynx height, epilarynx closure, pharyngeal width, tongue position, soft palate closure, lip position) and good singing requires you to do that efficiently and with skill.
When the voice is produced well, you’ll feel lots of sympathetic vibrations in various parts of the vocal tract, and these vibrations can be extremely useful feedback devices that you can learn to monitor.
But these vibrations are effect, not cause.
You can no more ‘place’ the voice than you can direct the ripples on a lake!